What do you do when you are asked to be with a family who want some sort of recognition or ritual when a loved one has passed away? You plan a funeral or memorial service, right?
But what if that family was deeply hurt by the church 20 years ago at the most vulnerable time in their lives? What if members of that family reject the notion of of anything that resembles a traditional service of remembrance due to the pain and emotion still felt because of the way the church treated them in the past?
As I was driving home from the funeral home yesterday afternoon, I reflected on what happened and came to the conclusion we had an ‘unfuneral’.
The family planned to have a visitation at the funeral home and asked me, if near the end, I would organize everyone together so we could have a short ceremony where a few words could be said about the deceased with whoever happened to be around at the time. After some lengthy discussion, some of it maybe even a bit heated, this was our happy compromise arranged between members of the family. There would be no receiving lines, no traditional symbols or rituals, just opportunity to mingle through the afternoon and a time for sharing.
So that is what we did.
It caught many by surprise as some were wondering when the church service would be. The funeral director was caught by surprise as well as he had not been aware this was happening.
But overall it went very well. It was informal, it was relaxed and people just sat around and heard some stories of a man who was blessed to be deeply loved by many people.
The sharing part was quite simple. I opened with a short prayer and members of the family came up and shared memories of this wonderful man. After they spoke I shared a little bit of the stories I heard and tied it in with John 14. There were a few tears, but there were also some laughs. I then closed with prayer and we were done.
There was no ritual. There were no lineups (except maybe for the coffee). Just a group of people who loved someone deeply and wanted a chance for people to remember and celebrate his life.
I didn’t know this man as well as I would have liked to know him, I had only a few discussions with him over the last few months, but if a person receives back the love they put out, this man was a man of great love because I have seen nothing but immense, deep, unwavering love poured out for him in his final days.
As a church, we need to be aware that the old rituals we hold on to are no longer exactly what people are looking for. While there is this rich tradition, there are families out there who need different expressions of mourning and celebration for many different reasons.
I am so blessed to be able to work with wonderful people who want the church to be involved, but in new ways. Ways that sometimes look foreign to the established church, but ways in which help people reconnect to their spiritual journey and realize the church still can be relevant and has something to offer, even today.